I definitely think a person’s core is one of the ‘hardest’ hit areas during pregnancy. You are literally being stretched out from the inside and it becomes more and more challenging to work your core muscles as your pregnancy progresses. I remember thinking that after having Caleb, my core was the weakest part of my body. I worked out through my entire pregnancy but I remember trying to do a plank after I began working out again and could barely hold it for 15-20 seconds. I also think my core strength was the absolute last thing to return to normal even after I lost the baby weight and felt even stronger in some other areas (upper body strength, endurance etc.) I do not think my core will ever quite look the same (which I honestly, just had to get over because I have a beautiful son which is worth not having as flat stomach J.) I also have to remember that all my abdominal skin was stretched out for 10 months and gaining back all of its elasticity is really hard.
I think many pregnant women are also fearful of hurting the baby doing core work while pregnant. They might think that crunches will hurt the baby somehow. I agree that after your pregnancy progresses crunches and a lot of abdominal work does not feel that great and some due to biomechanical reasons, just does not really work when you have a large belly. It is also a lot harder to activate your core muscles as the baby grows. However, just like aerobic exercise and strength training are important during pregnancy, core work is also very important. It can actually help with labor and help you regain strength after the birth more quickly.
Just like most types of pre-natal exercises, each trimester presents different challenges and modifications. Below is a brief description on how you can adapt your core work throughout your pregnancy.
Not much has to be changed to your core program if you are having an uncomplicated pregnancy. Unless your doctor has advised not to certain exercises or core work, you can continue to build strength and endurance in your core. Strengthening your low back is also very important throughout your entire pregnancy as many women will experience low back pain during their pregnancy due to the extra weight they are carrying.
Though I do not think crunches are the best core exercise they are still safe and usually comfortable for women to perform crunch variations during the first trimester. Oblique work and rotations can also be done in the first trimester before mobility becomes limited. I personally believe planks and plank variations should be the focus of your core work throughout all trimesters but you have much more core exercise options available to you when you are still early in your pregnancy. Balance is not as much of a factor early on so core work using various props such as physio balls and BOSUs are good to use during the first 14 weeks.
Since many women will still feel comfortable lying on their stomach and back at this time, low back exercises that are ideal include rolling cobras, supermans and bridges.
Remember, your core also will be working during strength training, yoga and other exercises as long as you remember to activate it!
At this point, most women are starting to show and certain exercises might feel a little more uncomfortable. The ACOG does not recommend doing exercises on your back after the first trimester. I personally believe that you can do a few exercises on your back as long as you feel okay and you are not laying down for long periods of time. However, at this point, crunches probably do not feel great. If any exercise does not feel right in your body, do not do it. Pregnancy is not the time to test your limits or do crazy, new exercises that might make you feel uncomfortable. At this point, you will want to avoid any loaded rotations. Again, great time for planks, side planks and low back work. Bridges can still be done but can be modified by using a physio ball to support the head, neck and shoulders.
At this point, core work might feel downright uncomfortable as you might be having a hard time activating any core muscles as the baby gets bigger and bigger. However, if you can still manage to work your core for even a few min during each workout, the benefits can pay off.
This is the time to be modifying most core exercises. Most women will want to do planks on their knees and side planks with one knee down. A great low back exercise is a bird dog as seen below.
I was so anxious to get the baby weight off and regain a strong and flat stomach. I was a little shocked/disappointed in how long this took.
As I mentioned in previous blogs, I took a week off and then started walking slowly and adding in very light weights. Based on how I felt each week, I started adding more exercises unless something hurt. I did not do any specific core work for a while but knew my core was getting worked when lifting and walking at an incline and then eventually running. I am only speaking from an uncomplicated vaginal birth and know that C-section recommendations are different. Speaking to my client who has had 4 C-sections, her Dr. recommended not to do anything but light walking as anything could injure the area.
These recommendations are for uncomplicated pregnancy and birth. If you had any abdominal trauma or diastasis recti (separation of the rectus abdominis muscle into right and left halves) talk to your doctor about specific recommendations.
I just slowly added in very short plank holds and as I felt a little stronger added in additional core work on the BOSU and physio ball. Be patient! This was by far the hardest part of my fitness to regain.
Core work is important to any exercise routine but can be really essential for pregnant women to help with delivery and recovery.